June 5, 1917 : Great National Lottery Day

In spite of all the stratagems to convince men to voluntarily join the War effort, there were not enough new recruits to meet the demand. To solve this, Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917 on May 18, 1917. The act required that all men between the ages of 21-30 must register though later with an increasing need for more troops the age limits were expanded to 18-45 years. There would be a total of three rounds of drafts during the course of the war. The first began on 5 June, 1917, the second began June 5, 1918,  and the third Sept. 12, 1918. During the first round 9.5 million men registered. The Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, emphasized an important point of the Selective Service Act, Section Three which stated:

“No person liable to military service shall hereafter be permitted or allowed to furnish a substitute for such service; nor shall any substitute be received, enlisted, or enrolled in the military service of the United States; and no such person shall be permitted to escape such service or to be discharged therefrom prior to the expiration of his term of service by the payment of money or any other valuable thing whatsoever as consideration his release from military service or liability there to.”

There were exclusions from the draft for those whose religious views were contrary to violence. Approximately 4,000 men were classified as conscientious objectors though the number who applied for this status was much higher.

Of the 5 million men who served in WWI, a little less than half were drafted. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Economic History:

“The typical soldier was a drafted man between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-three; he was white, single, and poorly educated. 400,000 soldiers were black and roughly 18 percent of the soldiers were foreign-born.”

Not everyone agreed with the draft. In fact, over 300,000 men dodged the draft. Only about 10,000 of those would be prosecuted. Their appeals were consolidated into one case that was heard before the Supreme Court on January 7, 1918. The defendants argued that conscription was akin to slavery and that the federal government did not have the authority to force them to fight. The Court sided with the President on the Draft Law Cases. This wasn’t to be the last time that the Supreme Court would have to rule on Selective Service.


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